“It’s What He Would Have Wanted”

I listen to ESPN radio on my way to work each morning. It’s a 25-minute drive. Last Christmas, I used gift money to get XM Satellite radio, so I can switch between various news and music channels. But in the morning, I mostly keep it on ESPN. So I’m a shallow guy.

This morning, they were talking about last night’s Cowboys-Eagles game (which I missed). They noted that on Monday morning, Bill Parcells attended the funeral for his brother, but that he was on the field coaching at night. Mike and Mike (the ESPN hosts) criticized that, and I certainly agree.

Brett Favre, the Packers quarterback, set a record for playing in consecutive games. But along the way, he buried his father, his wife suffered cancer, and there was some other similar event which I can’t remember, all of which occurred during the football season. But on Sunday, Favre was on the field leading his team.

I remember watching the McLaughlin Group one Sunday, and noting that Eleanore Clift just seemed out of it. At the end of the show, John McLaughlin, the host, said something to this effect: “On Wednesday of this week, Eleanore’s husband,____, passed away. But she’s here today, because that’s what he would have wanted.”

My immediate thought was, “McLaughlin used that line on her to get her to appear. He was just too lazy to go get a replacement, and certainly far too insensitive to think maybe she should just take a week off.”

I imagine Bill Parcells was told, “Your brother would want you to be coaching tonight. It’s what you do. He’ll be watching. Blah blah blah.” And Brett Favre probably heard (or said) the same thing regarding his father, his wife, his relatives in New Orleans post-Katrina.

Well, I think that stinks. Take some days off. Mourn for your father, your husband. Spend time with your wife as she suffers from cancer, even if your streak ends. Show some sense of priority.

If I fall over dead today, I hereby give my wife and family permission to break their usual routines. It’s okay if Pam doesn’t run the sound next Sunday. It’s okay if my Dad finds someone to sub for him in the pulpit at his church, while he deals with the death of his eldest son. It’s okay if my two brothers are bummed out, and don’t do all the things that were on their schedules for the coming week. If anything should happen to them, I certainly wouldn’t be carrying on as usual–playing in the worship team next Sunday, writing new blog entries, going to the ping pong club–under the pretense that, “That’s what he would have wanted me to do.”

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The Church Bouncers

One of those things happened last night that makes you shake your head, wondering what was the best thing to do.

A social service group called the Literacy Alliance uses our church’s downstairs areas on Thursday nights. They work with adults who need help learning to read and write. They have maybe a dozen people involved. We don’t charge anything.

The worship team is practicing while they meet. About 6:50, the lady who runs the program came upstairs and asked if our pastor was there (we had a board meeting at 7:00, also, so he was there). I asked her if I could help. She told me they had a guy downstairs who was totally disrupting things, and refused to leave. She was obviously at her wit’s end, deeply frustrated. Didn’t know what to do about the guy, and couldn’t accomplish anything with him present.

So, looked like we needed to kick someone out of the church, and there could be violence. I called to Terry, one of our guitarists, and told him the situation. And we headed downstairs with the woman. We were not exactly a fearsome duo, but we were heading into potential battle. Me–I’ve never been in a fight in my life.

But soon as I saw the guy, I felt okay. About my size, but nerdy looking. As if I’m not. Said he was 24. Terry and I approached him, behind the lady. She repeated that he needed to leave, and he immediately launched into all kinds of verbal sparring. He was asking why, what did I do wrong?, why won’t you help me? who is your superior? Then he asked, “Who are these gentlemen with you?” Then we got involved. “What gives her the right to tell me to leave?”

I said, “She’s in charge, and if she says you need to leave, then that’s it.”

He argued and argued. Pretty squirrely guy. Wanted to know our full names, as if he would report us to somebody. I briefly considered giving him a fake name, but decided that was dumb. We ushered him to the exit, which on that level is through the garage, and he was arguing the whole way. Finally got him ALMOST out, and he said, “I want someone to take me to the entrance where I came in. That’s where my bike is.” I said I would take him, but he said, “No, I’m scared. You might hurt me.” So it was getting funny.

Well, his bike was about 30 feet away. We got him outside, and he kept arguing. At one point he said, “You guys are scaring me. I’m frightened.” He asked Terry, “Will you promise not to hit me?” And Terry said, “No.” I had to laugh.

Anyway, we eventually got rid of him. Two laypersons kicking a young man, a disturbed guy, off of the church property.

Yeah, it was the right thing to do. I talked to the program director later, and she was still a nervous wreck from dealing with that guy. But it wasn’t comfortable for me and Terry. On the other hand, my sense of machismo has been elevated.

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Jesus Winks

I’ve been learning a lot about meditating on Scripture, and I’m seeing a lot of things in Gospel stories that I hadn’t noticed before. Others probably have. But I’m cursed with having grown up in the church and having been taught the Bible stories in specific ways. So it’s hard for me to give them a different bent. But I’m learning. At age 49, I’m learning.

I’m on “vacation” this week, which means I’m working at home on some freelance writing. It’ll be great fun, a whole week’s worth of quality time for quality writing. I started today out on the screened sun porch reading the story of the wedding banquet at Cana, Jesus’ first miracle. My childhood Sunday school teachers focused on Jesus, Mary, and the bridegroom. I had never really considered the role of the servants, the working class (which is probably a result of my Republican upbringing). But imagine what happened.

Jesus says, “Hey guy, come over here.” The two servants come. “See those water jars? Go fill them with water.” They look at each other, shrug, and then ask, “Why?” Jesus smiles. “Just play along with me on this, okay? We’re gonna have some fun.” The liked Jesus, becaue he didn’t mind mixing it up with them, the lowly servants–talking to them, taking an interest in their lives, joking with them. So they went off and filled the jars.

“Okay, we’re done,” one of them said.

Jesus handed one of them a cup. “Now, draw out a cup of” and he did the quotey two-fingers gesture “water.” He did. It was a dark cup, so the color of the liquid didn’t show up real good. But it sure looked like a dark red wine. The servant looked up at him with a puzzled expression. Jesus had a huge, huge smile. “Here’s what I want you to do. The bridegroom’s cup is empty. That him this cup. Just hand it to him, and walk away. Don’t tell him where you got it. Okay?”

So they did. Then they came back to Jesus. “I don’t think he suspected anything,” they reported.

Later, Jesus, cup in hand, walked over to the bridegroom and threw his arm around him in a chummy way. “Tom,” he said, because that was the bridegroom’s name, “this is great stuff! A lot better than the wine you put out first.” Over in the corner, the two servants are snickering. Jesus catches their eye and winks at them with a sly smile. Tom knows something is going on, but he doesn’t know what. And nobody tells him.

Only the servants knew. And the disciples. John says this miracle convinced the disciples to believe in him. But so did the servants, I’m sure. The bridegroom, the fellow with some money (because he had servants), a guy who would be useful in building a self-supporting suburban church–Jesus kept him in the dark.

That’s my version, consistent with the basic details John gives us, and I’m sticking to it.

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Going Ballistic

Imagine if an official in the Clinton administration publicized the name of a CIA operative, for purely political reasons. We Republicans would have gone balistic. It would be proof of how those liberal Democrats are soft on national defence. We would be totally outraged that someone who puts their life in danger for the sake of the country should be put at risk because Clinton didn’t like the operative’s husband.

Yes, we would be outraged, and justifiably so. So why aren’t we outraged by what the Bush administration did? Is it somehow okay?

I’m outraged. I know the matter has gotten twisted around all kinds of who-said-what-to-whoms. But it obviously started with White House people, and I for one hope they get nailed. We can’t let any administration go around exposing CIA agents. If Scooter Libby was involved–nail the sucker. If Cheney was, or Rove–nail ’em. And if the Republican apologists–Coulter, Hannity, O’Reilly, Fox & Friends, etc.–try to find reason to poo-poo what happened and decry Fitgerald as a witch-hunter: make up your own mind.

My goodness, I’m cranky.

Saw Zorro today. Good movie. Not as good as the first one, but a more than adequate sequel.

And now it’s time to go to bed. SNL is almost over. Stayed up to hear Sheryl Crow sing. Like her stuff. On Weekend Update, Tina Fey said, “According to the latest survey, 66% of Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is running the country. The other 34% believe Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church.” Funny.

Okay, NOW it’s time for bed.

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We’re now on the verge, or maybe over the verge, of having 2000 US soldiers killed in Iraq. It’s pretty amazing that we conquered the country with, what was it, less than 200 killed in action? I guess it’s like Quintus told Maximus in the movie Gladiator, “People should know when they are conquered.”

People should also know when they’re being taken for a ride.

A couple months ago, I was at an event and heard a lady telling another, “Every year 3000 people are killed on highways here in the United States. That’s less than have been killed in Iraq. So no matter what they tell you on the news, it’s actually safer to be in Iraq.”

She noticed me listening, and said, “Isn’t that right, Steve? It’s safer in Iraq than on our own highways?”

I told her, “That’s 3000 out of 250 million. In Iraq, it’s a couple thousand out of maybe a half-million US soldiers who have been in and out of the country.” And she didn’t really know how to answer that.

Where did she hear that? From Rush Limbaugh? From Fox News? Ann Coulter? From Jerry Falwell or James Dobson? Beats me. But I’m tired of the right-wing apologists for whatever the Bush administration does. Or, I’m tired of gullible Christian conservatives automatically believing whatever nonsense these apologists barf up. I’m always ticked when black leaders gloss over whatever Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton say and do, giving them a pass on everything from credibility to morality. But we Christian conservatives aren’t a whole lot better. I voted for George Bush twice, without apology. But I’m hugely, HUGELY disappointed.

But I’ll save that for a post some other time. No sense rushing in to totally alienate the legions of conversative Christians who devour my every post.

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My International Night Out

Tuesday is my “Guys Night Out,” the night I spend three hours at the Fort Wayne ping pong club. It’s also become somewhat of an international night. Like last night.

I started out playing Benny, who is from Cuba. I beat him last week, but he clobbered me last night, 3-0 (we play best of five games). Not a good start for the evening. Benny smashes harder than anyone else in the club. When he winds up with his forehand, you might as well crawl under the table, because you’re not gonna return it, and if you try, you might get hurt. I make a big deal out of his smashes, and Benny gets a kick out of it. When he smashes one hard, and I just wrap my arms around my head in protection, he just smiles broadly.

Then I played Ahmed. He’s been there the past two weeks, but I hadn’t played him yet. He plays up close and very fast. I’d seen him really go at it with some of the better players, and I didn’t expect to fare well against him. He won the first two games, but I figured out some things that were working, and I ended up winning the match in the fifth game (though it went into the ping pong version of extra points). Ahmed looked Arabic, and I figured he was from Iran, Iraq, maybe Lebanon or Jordan. Somewhere in that vicinity. But as we played, I recognized Richard Prabhakar’s accent. He was Indian. After our match, I spent some time just talking with Ahmed. Sure enough, he’s from India. Arrived a couple of months ago, and now works for Cooper Tire in Auburn, Ind. We had a nice discussion.

Then I played an American–Mike, whom I’ve never beat, though I’ve come very very very close several times. One of these weeks, I’ll prevail. Mike’s an engineer with ITT, working on weather satellites.

Next was John, who is from China. I’ve never beaten him, and probably never will. But I played respectably last night. After our match, he gave me some tips which turned out to be good advice. He told me I was passing up some shots which “I know you can hit.”

Then I played Ran, also from China. He’s been in Fort Wayne just three weeks, and works for Essex Wire. Speaks great English. While John is serious, Ran constantly sports a big smile and loves to joke around. A delightful guy. I beat him, by the way. Beat him a couple weeks ago, too, though it went down to the wire. In talking afterwards, Ran pointed to John (who was playing Ahmed at the time), and asked me where John was from. “He looks Japanese,” Ran said. “Mortal enemies,” I replied. He smiled. “Yes, they bombed my town during the war.” But I told him John was from China. Ran visited Hong Kong in 1995, and I was there in 1996, so we had some things to talk about there. He didn’t care for Hong Kong. Too big, crowded, and fast-paced for him. I liked Hong Kong, but agreed that is was too big, crowded, and fast-paced for me.

Next came Rick, who looks Jamaican but is actually from Panama. I’d never beaten Rick before, though again, like Mike, I had come mighty close. Last night, I beat him in five games. He was not moving very well, had a limp or something, but he refused to make any excuses which would lessen my victory. Classy guy.

Then I played another American, a newbie to the club named Brent. Won easily.

So last night, I ended up with a winning record, 4 matches won to 3 lost. And five of the seven were foreigners. Two of last night’s victories came against guys I didn’t expect to beat. So although I started out with a whupping from my Cuban friend, the evening was salvaged.

I enjoy the international guys. I’ve traveled enough that I find things to talk to them about. Plus, they’re all just so doggone interesting. I love hearing their stories. And it helps me appreciate the reality of the fact that the mission field has come to us.

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Me and the Revolution

Well, it’s my birthday. Age 49. Really. Not “49 and holding,” but an actual 49. So next year, people will probably make a bit deal out of the big 5-0. Our worship leader intended to draw attention to my birthday during the services this morning, so they could sing “Happy Birthday,” but he forgot. That’s fine with me. I hate having “Happy Birthday” sung to me. It’s excrutiating.

I was at a little medical clinic several years ago for some ailment I can no longer remember. A nurse came in, looked at my chart, and saw my birthday: October 23, 1956. In an East European accent, she said, “You were born on a very special day.”

I responded, “I know. The day the Hungarian Revolution started.”

It about blew her over. The expression on her face was priceless. She was from Hungary and experienced the invasion by Russian tanks. She remembered it well. And she was astonished that this American knew that date. My Mom had told me about the Hungarian Revolution connection when I was young, so I’ve always been aware of it. That nurse made sure I was well taken care of. It’s nice when a piece of trivia, after 40-some years, actually comes in handy.

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Extrapolations on Big & Rich

My friend Ed, over at Attention Span, just finished posting “Big Church-Little Church Blues, Part 2.” Part 1 was quite good. So is this one. Especially the comments from Mike, yet another friend of mine who does the River Church blog. Both Ed and Mike are small-church pastors, which makes Mike’s comments, in my book, pretty courageous.

Ed raises some stewardship issues, when he compares the cost of reaching people in America (especially suburbia) with, say, Honduras. How do we justify spending so much to reach only a few people in the States, when the same amount could reach hundreds–maybe thousands–of people in Honduras? It’s a good point.

But let’s extrapolate that point. Are you impressed that I used “extrapolate”? It’s a fancy word, and I think it sounds cool. But it’s also useful in this context.

If it’s about stewardship, then let’s stop trying to evangelize in Muslim countries. The costs and risks are great, and the “return on investment” has been historically minimal. It’s just not fertile ground for evangelism. That money would be better spent in Africa, Latin America, or the former Soviet states, where converts can be gained at a much better cost-per-convert. And Europe, from what I hear, is tough. In fact, if you’re going to spend evangelistic money in a Western country, it would probably be better spent in the States. People just aren’t as receptive in Europe. Wouldn’t God be pleased if we used His money to gain the most converts-per-dollar? It’s just good stewardship.

The thing is, nonChristians are nonChristians no matter where they live, and we have a responsibility to go after them with the Gospel. If it’s less expensive in one place than it is in another–so what? Converts are converts. They’ll all be asked the same questions by St. Peter.

So, while my church may be spending less money-per-convert than a church in my city’s suburbs, I view it as a matter of context. Do what’s necessary to reach the people around you.

That said…I walked into a church on my end of town–the rich suburbs–and was totally turned off by the extravagance. This, mind you, is a very good church (not of my denomination). It’s reaching people for Christ, building disciples, giving energy and resources to inner city work, doing good stuff in general. But I walked into the entryway and told my wife, “I feel like I’m going to the opera.” My heart says it’s wasteful, unnecessary, a matter of the believers pampering themselves. And I do believe there is some of that. Having come from a large suburban church, I recall how easy it is to spend money. But there are issues of context, of reaching the type of people around you, that come into play. And those issues make me far less judgmental than the cynic in me yearns to be.

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Taking Control of Your Own Lilfe

I just finished posting the 2005-2007 United Brethren Discipline on our denominational website. The US National Conference always makes numerous-to-extensive changes, and the 2005 edition was on the “extensive” side of things. But I got things updated, redesigned the document in an 8.5-by-11 inch format, and posted it online in PDF format. We’re not doing a commercially-printed version this time.

The Discipline is pretty much our denomination’s “manual of operations.” It contains info on membership standards, organizational structure, and much more. Over the past 15 years, we have removed a ton of restrictions from the Discipline, particularly regarding organizational issues. Now, conferences and local churches are free to adopt pretty much whatever structure they want to get the job done, with only a few requirements to help us work together without being totally independent.

Yet, we still get calls from people wanting to know what the Discipline requires in various situations. People seem to have some magnetic attraction to rules. They don’t handle freedom naturally. “Can our church form a youth commission that reports to the administrative board?” “Yes, you can.” “But the Discipline doesn’t say anything about it, so we were wondering if it was allowed.”

That kind of nonsense.

We also get people who call the bishop’s office for guidance on silly little things. “How do we handle this situation in our church?” They have the freedom to handle it any way they want. Yet they’re afraid to seize the day. They want to see something in writing, and if not in writing, they want to get direction from On High. I just don’t relate to that mentality very well, because I’m the type who acts and then gets permission, if there is fallout. There are lots of us out there, and we can create a different breed of problem for an organization, since we can constitute a battery of loose cannons. But I think an organization is better off with loose cannons than ammunition-less cannons.

Sometimes, you just have to force people to take their destiny into their own hands. You have to say, “You figure it out. You have the ability.”

Right now, I’m finishing up installing all new Macs for everyone in the building. That has also meant migrating people to a bunch of new programs and ways of doing things on the computer. I’ve given my coworkers resources, books, and other ways to learn on their own. Yet more often than not, they’ll bring questions to my door, rather than try to figure things out on their own. And more often than not, I’ll give them the answer they need. It’s actually efficient that way–come to me, rather than spend an hour searching for the answer on their own.

But the result is that people don’t learn to fend for themselves, don’t learn to find their own answers. They become dependent. And that’s not good. Plus, from my vantage point, it can be doggone annoying.

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The Final Gas Price

My Dodge Dakota was almost on empty yesterday, so I filled up. Came to $46. To which I say:


Or something like that.

My parents’ generation always notices gas prices, and they talk about gas prices like I might talk about, say, the price of coffee at Starbucks. “Did you notice that the price of gas went up a penny?” I’ve never been one to notice. Those signs out in front of gas stations might as well not exist for me. I have gas stations I go to regularly (BP, Shell, or Meiers), and whatever the price is, that’s what I pay. And I always pay at the pump with a credit card.

But Pam, my wife, is beginning to talk about the price of gas. She’s noticing those signs. And she’s younger than me, barely on the edge of being a baby boomer. Of course, she’s a CPA, so you might expect her to notice money-related information.

On the other hand, when I’m filling up with gas, I pay strict attention to the number showing when the pump clicks off. I don’t mean the outrageousness of the final price. I mean the really important figure: whether or not it ends on a number ending in zero. You see, the pump didn’t click off at $46 even. No, it was $45.76. I then nudged it on up to $46. If I miscalculated and it ended in $46.01, I would need to nurse it on up to $46.10, or $46.20. This is very important to me. It may strike you as a bit banal, without the b, but I guess “this is the way God made me.”

Now, Pam can end on any number. When the pump clicks off, she removes the pump handle and she’s done. Uneven numbers don’t faze her. She can deal with it. But I guess I lack her maturity in that area. I must, absolutely must, try to at least get to the next round dollar amount. If not an even dollar amount, then I’ll settle for any other number ending in zero. But never $45.76. Never ever.

I am proud of the fact that I’m able to obsess over the things in life that truly matter.

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